Pesticide use and risk of shortening telomeres

Photo credit: AJC Photo credit: AJC

A study published in PLOS ONE has found a negative association between occupational pesticide exposure and relative telomere length (RTL). Telomeres are long, repetitive DNA sequences found at the end of chromosomes that protect our DNA from damage. Researchers conducted this study over a ten-year period with 568 cancer-free males ranging from age 31 to 98 living in Iowa and North Carolina. All participants filled out surveys, with blood samples taken three separate times over the course of the study. RTL decreased with increasing age, which was to be expected; however, those with higher exposure to the pesticide 2,4-D had shorter RTL. Agricultural use of 2,4-D has been linked to higher incidence of cancer, such as Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and the decrease in RTL length may be a contributing factor in the development of the disease because as the RTL decreases, chromosomes—which contain most of our DNA—lose protection. These findings suggest that cumulative and more recent use of certain pesticides may be linked to alterations in RTL, which may be a potential intermediate in certain diseases.